The Secret

I’m late to the party on this one, but apparently a “if you think it it will come” book called The Secret was on Oprah and spurred a lot of reaction. I’m not going to speak for or against it except to say that if you’re gonna go with that why not go straight back to the classic.

The Secret and similar books piss many people off because if you believe that people can bring fortune into their lives, then you can blame the unfortunate for their misfortune — and you can revere the fortunate for their good fortune, because it’s all to their credit! It’s a very Republican way of thinking, when you take it in that direction — the poor have made themselves poor, and are thereby dragging the rest of us down; the rich have made themselves rich, and are therefore benefitting us all. Let us reward the rich to encourage them to be more rich, and punish the poor to discourage them from being so poor. Tax cuts and welfare reform!

Sorry, got a little carried away there.

So something like The Secret or As A Man Thinketh brings up, in an exaggerated, supernatural way, the difficult question of how much control over one’s situation we ought to attribute to people.

One can go destructively far in the other direction. If you don’t believe people have any control over their lives, you court learned helplessness, which is psychologically devastating.

How do you find the most helpful and most accurate balance in terms of control over one’s fate?

Martin Seligman, who was involved in the original Learned Helplessness research, discovered that the psychologically optimal strategy seemed to be to skew one’s attributions so that one thought of positive developments as having personal, internal, permanent causes — e.g. “I got the job because I’m an intelligent guy” — and negative developments as having impersonal, external, temporary causes — e.g. “I lost the job because of the way the downswing in the economy happened to affect my company this quarter.” People who skewed things that way, Seligman found, seemed to be the happiest and most successful in life.

That’s what’s helpful (at least according to one psychologist), but what’s accurate? I’ve got no idea how to determine that.

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